An Apulian duo with a love for locally-sourced, handmade creations decided to take their region’s heritage and launch a brand that would promote the best of Made in Puglia online, and to the rest of the world.
VIA interviewed Mest Decor to find out what drives them and how they will put Apulian designers on the map and table of every discerning traveler.
In Puglia, everywhere you turn, driving through seemingly sleepy towns, walking through the renovated streets of Lecce and Bari, and looking through rustic shop windows, there are artisans hard at work who are creating amazingness in silence. The secret to knowing them is having insider information.
“Craft products always have a story to tell: that of the hands that made them, of the time taken, of the technique used. If we add to these aspects the place in which they were created, with the lifestyle that it evokes and its aesthetics, the mix is a winner”, says Marilena of Mest Decor.
Mest Decor’s products are specially made by artisans for customers who have purchased pieces in advance and must wait for the order to be complete. In a world that’s based on ‘everything and now’, this waiting time should not be considered as lost but as a necessary part of the process to give shape to a story.
When and why did you start Mest Decor?
“We – Marilena and Enrica – are behind the scenes of Mest. We are professionals in the field of architecture and interior design, born and live in Puglia, a place of ancient traditions, enchanting landscapes and slow rhythms, increasingly sought after by visitors from all over the world. Mest is born from a desire for redemption, deriving from the awareness of having chosen to remain in our land, the perfect setting for a lifestyle based on simplicity, beauty, and calmness of gestures. This will takes shape in the idea of giving new life to the local artisan shops, through the story of knowledge and the enhancement of the beauty that is produced, also through online sales. Mest is the ancestral way of calling the workshop master, to whom we pay tribute by using his name for our brand.”
The duo started with a clear idea of their business. Their products talk about Puglia in a new way, through a mix of formal, chromatic, and material minimalism that reproduces the aesthetics of our landscape on the scale of the artifact. The ceramic works come from workshops in Grottaglie led by ateliers Bottega Vestita, Franco Fasano, Cinzia Fasano, as well as from the Giuinlab atelier in Polignano. The stone decorations of Lecce are made by the laboratory “MI – La pietra takes form” while the rattan weaves are the works of a Sicilian family. The lights are made by the historic De Cagna company. Today they are called all over the world to decorate the Japanese neighborhood festivals as well as Milan’s great fashion events. Spoons and cutting boards made of olive wood are the work of Tonino Zurlo of “The Olive that Sings”, an enchanting workshop in the alleys of Ostuni.
For those who don’t know, Grottaglie is the capital of Apulian ceramics. There are archaeological findings there that testify to the production of artifacts “whose roots are lost in the mists of time”, emphasizes Marilena. “The reasons lie in the composition of the clayey soil, in the presence of karstic cavities perfect for placing the ovens, and in the ventilation of the area suitable for drying the pieces. The tradition of ceramists is worthily represented by masters descended from historical artisan families such as, among others, Fasano and Vestita.”
“We make two collections a year, one that recalls the sensations of our long summer in the open air, the other linked to more domestic atmospheres related to the winter season. On the occasion of festivities, we create ad hoc gift ideas collaborating with local partners that allow us to put together crafts and gastronomy.”
How did you choose the artisans?
“The initial selection phase of our artisans was literally on the road: we milled kilometers to reach the main Apulian towns known for their craft traditions. We visited the shops and discovered a great production full of passion and skill. Above all we met the masters, listening to their stories oscillating between enthusiasm and resignation. The first collaborations started with the artisans who wanted to experiment and knew how to create those small, great masterpieces that responded to our idea of ’Pugliese’. As soon as the shop went online, new artisans requested to collaborate with us. These are designers of the new generation, who fit perfectly into the trend of contemporary craftsmanship in continuity with that of the longtime masters. This double track, based on shoe soles worn between the alleys and on the digital communication channel, perfectly represents the duality of the Mest project, straddling tradition and innovation.”
When I ask Marilena about endangered crafts in Puglia, she notes, “One of the most fascinating jobs to risk extinction is that of the axeman. These are fundamental professional figures in shipyards when the boats were made mostly of wood.” This is just one craft that is in danger of losing its tracks, and the key to saving them is obviously in communication. Mest Decor is a kind of lifeline to these artisans on the verge. “The world of Apulian craftsmanship has a low capacity for networking, which we also find in other local productive sectors. If you succeed in overcoming this gap, you can create a strong and coherent offer, capable of generating a winning brand like sectors in constant growth such as those of tourist accommodation and gastronomy”, affirms Marilena.
Their flagship collection, Gocce di Blu (Drops of Blue), is a bestseller: beautiful table ceramics that perfectly represent their aesthetic code: minimal forms are enriched by the traditional decoration made of small drops of color in a new shade of blue. The base of the ceramics is white, like Apulian limestone, while the blue splashes from the sea seem to have been spilled accidentally.
What’s your absolute must-have piece?
“Light. Illuminations are the eternal symbol of Southern Italy that celebrates our traditions with luminous structures that cover churches, villages, and roads in the days of the patron saint and of village fairs. Thanks to our products, tradition blends with contemporary furnishings: the symmetries of the village illuminations enter the houses generating warm and refined atmospheres not only for the Apulians, but for all those who love beauty and innovative design elements.”
The brand’s next pursuit includes collaborations with accommodation properties to attract their target of well-heeled, foreign customers who want to bring a piece of their Apulian lifestyle experience back home. In addition, Mest Decor will begin testing ad hoc offers for weddings as an increasing number of couples from all over the world choose Puglia’s millennia-old, majestic olive trees as the backdrop for their most beautiful day.
To explore the collections, visit Mest Decor online: www.mestdecor.com